Consumer reality: how brands are constructed

Chris Barnham

Chris Barnham Research and Strategy


It is often asserted that qualitative market research differentiates itself from quantitative research because it achieves more ‘depth’. The interview process is different to that of quantitative research because it goes in to more detail and because it is open ended. It also uses different interview techniques and the analysis process is more complex. It is often argued that qualitative research gets closer, as a result of these differences, to what consumers ‘really think’.

The qualitative language that we use to describe these differences is of significance in itself and illustrates our underlying mind-set. It suggests that, when we normally ask questions of consumers, they tend to reply with answers that are ‘on the surface’, ‘rational’ and ‘superficial’. We believe that it is our professional task to get beyond these consumer responses to the ‘real’ consumer beliefs and attitudes that lie ‘below the surface’. We talk in terms of ‘probing’, ‘depth’ and ‘getting beneath the surface’. We take it as a given that what the consumer says is often not the real truth, but rather a fabrication of their own subjectivity. We feel that we need to work our way through their defensive layers to uncover what they ‘really think’.